Agreements set to produce seven family features worth $78m.

Shanghai Hippo Animation Design Company is to partner with two Western Australian companies on seven animated children’s and family films in the next three years worth $78m.

The estimate comes from Hippo founder and chief executive Kerr Xu and the two Australian companies are Vue Group and ZAC Films.

“We might go bigger though,” Xu told ScreenDaily from Perth. “80% of the money will come from my company and 20% from my Australian partners.”

There are plans to create a fund for further feature film joint ventures between China and Australia – a fund that other producers will be able to tap into with the right scripts.

When established later this year it will have $10m available but the target is $50m.

“For an Australian producer to be given a guarantee of a certain level of release in a market such as China is phenomenal,” said Xu, adding that Hippo is also in film distribution.

“No American producer can guarantee release in North America. The only criteria will be that the film supports filmmaking in Australia and China and, just as in real estate you say ‘location, location, location’, in filmmaking you say ‘script, script, script’.”

Xu said the presales available for China, particularly for animated films, are enough to cover 70-80% of production costs. Hippo has also guaranteed to provide 100% of the print and advertising costs, he added.

Upcoming productions

Hippo currently produces four to five features a year with credits including Animen 1 and 2, Jungle Master, Little Bear’s Secret and Farm House 81.

The first projects likely to be produced under the new deal are sequels The Rabbit 2 and Farm House 81: Perfect Friends.

Both are projects with the Vue Group, which is expected to grow its Bunbury-based animation team to 50 people as a result of the Hippo partnership.

A sequel to Jungle Master is in the works at ZAC Films, the managing director of which is Troy Zafer.

Including Chinese elements

Xu expects the biggest creative challenge will be including Chinese elements in films in a way that attracts international audiences, but he expects Australia’s talent pool to help with that. Chinese audience were used to international films and were open minded, he added.

State government agency ScreenWest has been working closely with the Department of State Development in China for three years and this is one of the first outcomes.

Other initiatives are expected to be unveiled next year, including in the live action arena.

“Australia and China share something,” said Xu. “Our industries are small compared to Hollywood but we are both eager to make films … Hollywood puts a lot of pressure on our industries and we are creating a bigger, better space for independent producers.”

He added it was no longer a problem getting revenues back from Chinese cinemas, when asked about this.